August 4, 2021
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Speedup PC with Windows Registry Maintenance

Have you ever linked your degraded PC performance with the lack of maintenance of Windows Registry? Not known to most of us who rarely peek underneath of the hood of Windows operating systems, keeping windows Registry in shape is a critical step to boost and maintain your PC performance at a notch above others.

What is Windows Registry?

Despite our conception of Windows as one big and complex program, it's in reality a collection of a few hundred to even a few thousand programs. Almost each program requires specific information to start and to operate. When an application is modified, it also needs to store modification into a data storage from where the same information can be retrieved again. Ever heard of Windows INI (initialization) file? Before Microsoft Windows 95, all applications, including the operating system itself, used INI files to store and retrieve information. There was no specification for either the format of these INI files or the locations at where they should be stored. The result was a messy INI jungle that caused difficulties for users to manage numerous INI files on Windows.

Microsoft introduced the Windows Registry in Windows95. Replacing the INI files was a centralized and standardized information database that can be managed relatively easily with a set of tools. The Registry is made of two basic kinds of components: keys and values. Keys are like file folders in Windows Explore. Therefore keys can contain values or subkeys, just like sub folders, which contain more values or subkeys. Values are pairs of name and data stored within a key. Windows applications store their settings and information using the combination of Registry keys and values.

When a new application is installed or a Microsoft update is added, Windows Registry is updated. When a new hardware is installed, Windows Registry is updated with driver information needed to support the new device. When you change desktop background picture, screen resolution, or even just resize a Windows application, chances are that the Registry is modified. In summary, Windows Registry is an intimate living organ of your Windows operating system and it is updated much more often than you notice.

Problems with Windows Registry

Windows Registry indeed standardized both the format and the location required by information storage needed for almost every Windows application. Nevertheless, it introduced several new problems.

First, centralized information storage automatically assumes a single point of failure as you are pretty much putting all of your eggs (critical information required by Windows operating system and applications) in one basket (the single Windows Registry database). Improper rendering of Registry can result in various problems ranging from being unable to start a particular application to paralyzing Windows operating system. The latter consequence usually requires complete reinstall of Windows. Unlike the old INI files which allowed containing comments and explanations, Windows Registry doesn't allow any documentation of its keys and values and therefore makes comprehension of their meanings abstract and difficult.

Secondly, applications that weren't uninstalled properly will leave registry entries in the Registry. When these leftover entries are in either HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT or HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE, they sometimes lead to performance or even stability problems. By default, the size of Registry is controlled by a value called Registry Size Limit (RSL) determined by Windows. Imagining hundreds or even thousands of unused registry entries that remain in Registry taking spaces of Registry and slowing down access speed of Registry, the performance of your PC is guaranteed to take a hit. The nature of this problem is equivalent to how a fragmented hard drive that is occupied by unused programs slows down your PC.

Therefore, maintaining Windows Registry is essential to improve the performance of your PC. Specifically, there are two methods that you should follow: Registry back up and Registry clean up.

Registry Back Up

It is important to back up Registry on regular basis as it is modified so frequently by Windows. Windows actually makes Registry backup as part of normal reboot or shutdown procedure. Nevertheless, for two reasons, you should do it yourself manually instead of relying on Windows. First, when Windows crashed there is no guarantee that your Registry will be backed up properly. Second, more and more people leave their PCs running for days or even weeks without shutting down or rebooting. The result is out-of-date Registry backups that are useless.

If backing up Registry on regular basis is not something that you can commit to yet, you should at least make Registry backup before installing new software, adding new hardware or making major changes to the Windows operating system. And for those advanced PC users who want to manually edit Registry keys, back up the existing Registry before making modifications.

Windows Registry is divided into a list of hives that hold keys, values and subkeys. At the root level, it has six root hives, like HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT, HKEY_CURRENT_USER, and HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE. Any portion of Registry starting with a key can be backed up. Just imagine a key is like a branch on a tree, you can replicate a branch without replicate the entire tree. For skillful and advanced Windows users, backing up a portion of the Registry is not difficult if done carefully, nevertheless, we recommend you always back up the entire Registry instead of a portion of it. It is because, more than often, you will have to modify various keys in different sections of the Registry to get the job done. Most application installations also make modifications at different spots of Registry, starting from different root hives. After all, nothing can go wrong if you just back up the entire Registry instead of regretfully fining out later that an important portion of the Registry was left out.

To conduct Registry backup, you can use a system tool called RegEdit provided for all versions of Microsoft Windows including Vista. Click the Start button, select the Run menu, type regedit, and click OK. When Registry Editor launches, select the top node from the Registry hive tree. Usually it is labeled as My Computer or Computer. Go to the File menu and select Export Registry File. Provide a meaningful file name, specify a location where you can easily remember, and click Save. Depending on the version of your Windows operating systems and installed applications, the file size of a complete backup of Registry can vary from fifty megabytes to a few hundred megabytes. It is also recommended that you store the Registry backup files on a separate location than your main hard drive. The best place to store the backups is on a mobile hard drive or burn them onto a CD/DVD so that they wonít be lost even if Windows is corrupted. To restore Registry backup, you should follow the same steps described above to open Registry Editor. Go to File menu, select Import Registry File, locate the last trustworthy Registry backup file, and click Import.

Registry Clean Up

As mentioned before, after using your PC for a while, the Windows Registry accumulates keys and values that are no longer in use. These information were usually left behind by incomplete uninstall or obsolete Registry keys because of program updates. Over time, this misplaced or orphaned information aggregates and starts to make your Registry bloated. Like how clogged arteries slow down blood flow in human bodies, cluttered Registry degrades PC performance, potentially causes error messages and system crashes, and slows down startup process. Registry Clean Up is the easiest way to prevent these problems.

Although Registry Backup is something that you can perform manually by yourself if you are a knowledgeable Windows user, we strongly recommend not trying to remove registry items by yourself manually. Just to give you some ideas of how technically a Registry cleanup task becomes, below is a list of types of Registry keys that require scan and clean up:

Categories Invalid Entry Description
COM/ActiveX Entries The COM/ActiveX section of the Windows registry can contain invalid entries that can cause application failure, system crashes, or errors when opening documents.
Uninstall Entries The Uninstall Entries section of the Windows registry can contain invalid entries or point to one or more missing entries. Typically this is due to incorrect installing or uninstalling of applications.
Font Entries The Font section of the Windows registry can contain one or more missing font files that can cause errors in applications (for example, Word processing applications).
Shared DLLs The Shared DLLs section of the Windows registry can contain invalid entries that cause application failure due to DLL conflict.
Application Paths The Application Paths section of the Windows registry can contain invalid disk directories that can cause application failure.
Help Files Information The Help section of the Windows registry can point to invalid help files that can cause application help files to open incorrectly.
Windows Startup Items The Run section of the Windows registry can contain missing program entries that can be caused by incorrect installing or uninstalling of an application.
File/Path References Some registry items can be associated with non-existing files and folders such as when temporary files are used for storage. These entries may still be valid and required for use. Only remove entries that you know are invalid.
Program Shortcuts Program shortcuts with a ".lnk" extension, may no longer be linked to an application.
Empty Registry Keys Registry keys can be empty - they have no associated value.
File Associations The File Associations section of the registry can contain invalid file associations. If a file type is associated with a program that does not exist then it shows up as an irregularity.


Unfortunately, as Windows doesn't provide any system tool that scans and cleans up Registry, you have to acquire Registry maintenance software to do so. We conducted research and tests against several popular Windows Registry maintenance programs available on the market based on the following criteria:

  • Comprehensive Registry Scan with Customizability: a good Registry maintenance program provides complete scan of all aforementioned Registry keys with the option of letting users to select what to scan and what to ignore.
  • Complete Clean up with Selective Removal: a good Registry cleaner removes everything it finds. Nevertheless, advanced users may want to choose what to remove and what to retain for specific reasons.
  • Regsitry Backup and Restore: a Registry maintenance tool isnít complete, if it doesnít have Backup and Restore feature. Especially, it is a MUST to back up the entire Registry before any cleaning process is performed, even by a trusted Registry cleaning program.
  • Automatic Scanning with Scheduling: maintaining Windows Registry with scanning, backing up, and cleaning up on regular basis can become an onerous job. Therefore, we look for Registry maintenance applications that are equipped with scheduling capability to run daily, weekly, or monthly.
  • Startup Management: advanced Registry maintenance applications often come with Startup Management feature to complete your PC performance tune up experience. You get to choose what applications to launch at start up time so that Windows finishes booting up within reasonable timeframe.

Maintaining Windows Registry with backup and cleaning up is a worthwhile investment with minimum effort and cost if you choose the right Registry cleaning application. You will notice immediately that both the performance and the stability of your PC improve right away. With an advanced Registry maintenance program that has a scheduling feature, you can automatically scan, backup, and clean Registry on regular basis.

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